Windsor Museums Study Day

Hola amigos, Em reporting here.

Last Thursday I attended my first study day as a member of the South East Museums Federation (SEMFed), an organisation established in 1937 that covers the Eastern and South Eastern regions of England. As one of our objectives for the traineeship, we were asked to become a member of a network outside of Colchester + Ipswich Museums, with the intention that we attended study days, meetings and visited other organisations. Myself and a few others were lucky enough to gain free membership to SEMFed after our presentations at the Ipswich study day, organised by Will Heppa (Museum Assistant).

The Windsor study day started bright and early (a train journey at 6:20!) and had an exciting schedule with four museum visits lined up. As we arrived in Windsor we got caught up in a march leading towards the Castle. Unfortunately, we didn’t actually see her Royal Highness, but we did give her a wave on our way past, just in case!

The first place we visited was Windsor and Royal Borough Museum. Members of staff gave a presentation about the ways they run events, as well as how they use community outreach to collect local information and objects for displays and major events. The room that we were sat in was extremely regal, with chandeliers and paintings of the Royal Family surrounding us. The fact that some of these were original paintings was amazing. Some had even been commissioned especially for hanging in Windsor!

After the presentation, one of the curators took us on a tour of the rest of the building, showcasing the towns strong links to royalty, their mayoral timeline and the beautiful rooms for wedding hire. Downstairs we visited the museum, which although small, was filled with lots of different displays, from local war time tales and books of the Borough, to celebrations of local people and unusual artefacts from excavations.

Next up, we headed to the Eton College Natural History Museum, which is only open to the Boys of Eton College (except for Sunday 2:30-4pm when the public can visit). I’d never come across a museum space that was only aimed at one group of people, so this was something I found fascinating/very unusual! The curator who showed us around was also the security guard, teacher and event organiser, highlighting how staffing was very different compared to our Local Authority run museums.

Another concept that I found very interesting was the idea that the text labels were written for boys aged 14+ who had an Eton College level of education (i.e. a high academic standard). Our text is written to be accessible for all audiences, so we do not assume there is any prior knowledge about our objects and we avoid using museum/scientific language. Their text on the other hand is written for, and often by, people of a specific gender, age group and academic status.

Next up was the Eton College Museum of Antiquities, a room displaying a variety of Egyptian artefacts that were bequeathed by former pupil, Major William Joseph Myers. The display cases were organised by theme, which was a really nice feature so that you could make links between the objects in each case. An improvement that I’d like to suggest would be the inclusion of text labels, as there weren’t any! Instead, all of the information was inside a small hand-out given to you upon entering. Although there is probably a perfect explanation for this, I found it hard to work my way around the room and I think it made it more difficult as a visitor.

The last museum we visited was the Museum of Eton Life, which showcases exactly that. This was my favourite venue of them all. Set in a cellar in the grounds of Eton, it included uniform displays, an Eton wall of ‘fame’ and boarding bedrooms representative of the Edwardian period vs. the modern day. The curator explained about the difficulties of having a museum based in a cellar (excessive damp and flooding), how they decided what stories to tell and their changing exhibition spaces.

The trip was different to say the least, with various conversations about museum representation, accessibility and private education arising throughout the day. The spaces opened my eyes to new ways of running museums without public funding and how methods of display, learning and access can be used to appeal to certain audiences (and put others off!). Thanks to everyone from SEMFed involved in organising the trip and providing a fascinating insight into very different museum institutions.

Ciao for now, Em 🙂

 

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